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Congress reconciled to a stint in the opposition

March 25, 2014 21:55 IST

As the Lok Sabha election draw closer, a weary Congress is gradually getting reconciled to the idea of a stint in the opposition even though its strategists are convinced that the party will win up to 140 seats. Anita Katyal reports.

While dismissing the recent spate of poll surveys which have predicted that the Bharatiya Janata Party alone will reach the crucial 200-mark as exaggerated, Congress leaders admit that the party will not win more seats than the saffron party.

A senior Congress functionary told Rediff.com that it is now clear that the BJP will emerge as the single largest party but was also convinced that it will not head the next government.

Stating that regional players or the “Third Front” or the “Federal Front” will have the largest clock of members in the next Lok Sabha, Congress insiders said their party will be sitting in the opposition.

“Ëven if we win 140 seats, as we expect to, we will not attempt to cobble together a government with the help of regional parties… people want change.. let them have the change they vote for,” a senior Congress leader told Rediff.com.

According to a Congress general secretary, the party’s internal surveys show its numbers will plummet down to 110 from the present 206 in the outgoing Lok Sabha.

However, the party has revised its estimates to 140 following the rumblings in the BJP over the distribution of tickets to outsiders and the sidelining of senior leaders. The party may improve its tally marginally but it will still be well below its present strength.

The party’s decision to sit in the opposition is in line with its vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s plans to rebuild the Congress party organisation and win back its traditional support base in states where it has virtually been wiped out.

In fact, Rahul Gandhi has always been in favour of going back to the party’s “ëkla chalo” policy and has often said that the party should take a fresh look at its stand of forging alliances. It was at Rahul Gandhi’s insistence that the Congress decided not to have an electoral pact in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in the last assembly and Lok Sabha elections. Although he had to revise his stand with regard to Bihar this time, the Nehru-Gandhi has said that in case an alliance is necessary, the Congress should partner a like-minded party.

Congress leaders point out that Rahul Gandhi is not averse to a stint in the opposition as it will give him the space and breathing time to rebuild and restructure the party with his team mates and confidants in accordance with his plans and ideas.

Besides sitting in the opposition, the Congress rank and file is also reconciled to the fact that the party will wear a new look after the upcoming elections when the old guard will gradually be sidelined and GenNext will be in control. A beginning has already been made with the appointment of younger leaders as state unit presidents.

In fact, it was Congress general secretary Janardan Dwivedi who first initiated the debate on the party’s policy of forging alliances and heading a coalition government two months ago. In a rare interview, the otherwise reticent Dwivedi had publicly declared that the Congress should not have agreed to form the second United Progressive Alliance government in 2009 even though the grand old party had improved its tally substantially by winning 206 seats.

“It would have been better that in 2009, after getting more support from people than in 2004, Congress should have called it quits so that someone else could have formed the government. Congress could have played the role of a healthy opposition,” he had said in the famous interview.

Given Dwivedi’s proximity to Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, it was assumed that the senior leader was speaking on their behalf. In fact, this was also seen as the first sign that the Congress was preparing for a defeat in the coming Lok Sabha polls and was looking at a long-term strategy to revive and strengthen the organisation as no serious effort has been made in this direction even though the Congress was in power for a decade.

While underlining that the Congress should not have formed the government in 2009, Dwivedi’s views were also read as signals that the Congress would prefer to sit in the opposition if it failed to win the requisite numbers. Well before the surveys showed that the Congress may not win 100 seats, there was a view in the party that it should either lend outside support to a third front grouping of regional players or attempt to form a government if the party is able to win 140-150 seats.

Dwivedi had advocated that the party steer clear of both these options and should sit in the opposition. It now appears that the senior leader’s views have found greater acceptance by the party leadership.

After a long stint in the wilderness, the Congress had decided to forge alliances with like-minded secular parties in the run-up to the 2004 Lok Sabha polls in order to keep “communal forces” at bay. Having managed a coalition government for two terms -- even though nobody thought the Congress would be able to do so -- there is now a growing view in the party that its stint in government had been at the cost of the party organisation.

The mistakes made in 2009 should not be repeated, it is felt.

Image: Congress president Sonia Gandhi and party vice president Rahul Gandhi

Photograph: Reuters

Anita Katyal in New Delhi